The red carpet will be rolled out in Hollywood when the Academy Awards, known as the Oscars, are presented later this month. Oscars for scientific and technical achievements have already been handed out, with a little less fanfare but just as much excitement for the winners. This event was not in Hollywood but in nearby Pasadena, where engineers and scientists who make technical innovations in the movie industry get their acknowledgment.
For French Oscar recipients Jean-Marie Lavalou and Alain Masseron, co-designers of a camera crane, the award was a dream come true. Their so-called Louma crane was first used in Hollywood by Steven Spielberg more than 25 years ago, and is still being used for films in the Harry Potter series. Mr. Lavalou says the two designers have long been fascinated with Hollywood.
"We both are very fond of American movies," he said. "When we were kids, it was Cinemascope and it was Hollywood, it was the glamor of Hollywood and the Oscar ceremony and all that. And the fact that now, we are getting a real one is something amazing. You know, it is very, very, very important for us and we are extremely happy to get this Oscar."
Other honorees received plaques or citations for designing noise reduction devices to improve the sound of movie soundtracks, using silicone to create better makeup for actors, devising lighting systems for movie sets or camera stabilizers. Others were honored for computer hardware and software, which one official of the motion picture academy says have created a movie-industry revolution.
"I think that right now, computer-generated and electronic media have so completely changed the possibilities of what we can do with the visual media, and the mixture of sound and visual," said Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars. "There is now nothing that a man or woman can conceive that you cannot make."
Mr. Pierson, the author of such screenplays as Dog Day Afternoon, says the challenge for writers and directors is learning to use the technology to its full potential.
Richard Edlund, who heads the academy's scientific and technical awards committee, says the new technology is sometimes overused, but offers tools for moviemakers that are now essential.
"It is part of the growing pains, I think," he said. "I think visual effects have become part of the mainstream of moviemaking, and a lot of movies that are not effects movies have visual effects in them because the director can get shots that he otherwise couldn't get."
For actress Scarlett Johansson, the ceremony's hostess, the evening offered a glimpse of a part of the industry that she had not thought about much. The star of such films as Lost in Translation says she has never stopped to ask who designed the equipment on the movie set.
"Never, never think about that. I never think about who designed the crane," she said. "I do wonder what the crane is there for, and how close it is going to come to my face, but I never think about that aspect of it. So it is pretty interesting. You learn something new every day."
For David Samuelson of Britain, who co-designed the Louma crane system with his two French colleagues, this evening is a great way to cap a long career. He was honored 25 years ago with an academy plaque for the same device for which he is getting the Oscar. The golden statuette will be displayed in his home in central London.
"Oh yes, it is going on my mantle piece where the plaque that I have had for 25 years is going, because I am well retired now," he said. "And they have only got hold of me just in time because they do not give this award posthumously, and I am now 80. So it is a lovely thing to have."
German designer Horst Burbulla received an Oscar for another camera crane, and says devices like his are just tools for those who are making a movie.
"I think it is ... the actor and the story who make it work. We are just the typewriter. We can be a good typewriter, but we cannot be more," he said. "That is our limitation. But I am so glad to be the typewriter. For these outstanding films, I would like to deliver as many typewriters as possible."
The Oscars that honor performers, directors, writers, producers, and others who make movies will be given out in Hollywood February 27.